Need a Memory Boost?
Upgrade Your Brainpower
By Dr. Nancy D. O’Reilly
Remember when you were a child and you remembered everything your
parents promised, like that new bike or a trip to zoo? Remember when
your parents said they could not remember their promise and you must
have been mistaken? It happens that parents do forget and their
memories are not as crystal clear as a child's. At some point in
life, everyone will have a problem with his or her memory.
As each day unfolds, we are challenged to remember a multitude of
things, such as phone numbers, driving directions, names, tasks, and
moment-to-moment requests. So, why do we forget and what can we do
about it, especially if our once perfect memory has now become
faulty and unpredictable?
Let’s start off by understanding what a memory actually is. There
are two types we use daily: short-term memory and long-term memory.
Both of these are important for our everyday functioning. We learn
new material (a name, a date, directions, all things) with the use
of short-term memory. That’s why it’s hard to remember a person's
name when we’ve just been introduced. If we want to remember his or
her name, we must mentally practice it. Saying it out loud or
spelling it out, writing it down and repeating it. People who have
remarkable memories for names, dates, events and so on are no more
talented than you or me. The difference with these people's memories
is they have spent time practicing and taking steps to encode and
move this information from short-term to long- term memory.
Long-term memory is what we need to survive and function. It allows
us to go through our day almost effortlessly when we brush our
teeth, comb our hair and eat our breakfast. What happens when we
forget how to do something? Unless we can find something to
associate with new information, like my mother's name is Jane, and
then encode it into our long-term memory banks, we forget.
Forgetting is called "decay." In other words, the memory literally
starts to fall apart. A name may start as Jane, but without practice
or encoding it starts to decay and becomes maybe “Ja” or is gone
completely. To recall this information takes the action of making
memory a task and a function to execute.
We also learn information in what are called “chunks” of memory. If
we take learning a new action in pieces and learn one piece at a
time, we can put them all together and repeat the action. For
example, when we learn a song word by word and sentence by sentence
and put meaning into the words and sentences to make chunks of
information that flow together, then we form a complete memory.
All forms of memory are affected by several factors. Stress is a big
destroyer of memory chunks and affects every aspect of our
performance. Have you ever noticed when you are overwhelmed and
someone asks for your telephone number and you cannot remember it?
Stress and illness can affect brain functioning and can cause
constriction of blood flow. Good memory occurs when the flow of
healthy oxygen nourishes the brain and creates overall health and
well-being. When we feel rushed and pushed by time constraints, it
can affect a person's performance and ability to remember.
Retention is the ability to maintain information and to retrieve
it. Retrieval is the brain's ability to absorb information and to
store it for later use. To understand this process, visualize a
mountain of words and information. Each day we are confronted with
new information and asked to sort through it and remember it. We
pile new information on top of old information and we keep piling it
on until we want to access some older memories, which are solidified
in our long-term memory. Practice is also involved with retrieving
information that is layered down in our conscious memory.
Memory is also affected by trauma and any tragedy we may have
experienced. We know that a person who has been in a serious
accident or crime may experience memory difficulties. Time and
healing often must take place for memories to be accessed and for
the impaired person to remember information more accurately.
Person(s) who have hidden dangerous or invasive memories may need
assistance to deal with these. A victim of a serious crime or attack
may experience what is called a post-traumatic episode, where
memories may appear to be so real that the person is re-living the
horrendous event over and over again. Treatments are available to
help these people understand and heal from their life-changing
events and return to normal functioning.
Fortunately, with good health and exercise, reduced stress levels
and mental challenges, you can retain your memory and even boost
your brainpower! Here are some helpful hints:
1.) Memories begin as short-term memories and when they are
encoded and practiced, they are placed in the long-term memory
banks. The memory process occurs as chunks of memory are placed in
storage for retrieval at a later time, so practice storing and
retrieving information you want for later use. Memory chunks need to
time to solidify and this is accomplished with practice, repetition
and making memory a conscience action.
2.) Memory can be impaired by illness, accidents, trauma, stress
and time limits. Obviously, it is important to do what you can
to protect yourself from serious injury, such as wearing the right
gear when involved with sports or recreational activities, and
reducing stress when you can by cutting out unhealthy habits,
situations and even relationships.
3.) You can help improve your memory with practice and
preparation to learn new material. It is also important, when
retrieving materials that were learned previously, to store them in
chunks. For example, when children learn to play the piano, they are
asked to learn the piano keys by memorizing sentences, which explain
the names of each key. This is also called "situational memory.” An
example of "situational" memory is memory chunks that are formed in
the same place, in the same situation and the same environment. By
recreating the same learning conditions and having the same frame of
mind, health, attention and focus, he or she is more likely to
remember the information and have better retention.
4.) Use your brain and keep it pumped up. Having good blood
flow to the brain occurs with regular exercise, a healthy diet and
reduced stress levels, which all help to ensure we have good memory.
See your doctor regularly for check-ups. Look for foods that are
rich in vitamins, low in sugar and caffeine, which can be very
helpful. Your brain is a muscle, therefore it needs good food,
exercise and new information daily to keep it fresh and ready to
learn. Involvement with art and music have been shown to help brain
function and improve blood flow. Fish oils and foods high in Vitamin
B will help reduce stress and improve memory.
5.) Practice makes perfect! We’ve all been told this,
especially when we’re learning a new skill. Go out and practice
whatever it is you want to remember; a language, a task, or
information you want to use on the job. We can practice any action
in our minds and later execute it with amazing results. Also look
for new hobbies and experiences that will help your brain get
“exercise.” These can be as simple as crossword puzzles and memory
games, or more physical such as learning how to cook gourmet food or
trying to snowboard.
6.) Memory is important for all of us, especially as we grow
older. To retain the memory functions that we have, we must try to
stay active, social and look for the plethora of books, games and
websites that can improve or help retain memory function. Keep
learning new things on a daily basis, and challenge your memory.
Just like any other muscle, you must exercise your brain to keep it
functioning and healthy!
More people are experiencing memory problems due to poor health
conditions. Make sure to get regular check-ups, eat right and reduce
your stress levels. We all fear not being able to care for ourselves
and can stay healthy with simple steps – the most important one
being vigilant about our own healthcare. Make today the day you put
together your plan for a brain workout, which will create for you a
memory that others will envy.
Read other articles and learn more about
Nancy D. O’Reilly.
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